What often happens when I travel is that I endeavour to do and see as much as possible, in every available hour. Sometimes, this can leave me feeling a little burnt out, especially if I am moving from place to place on a tight schedule.
When I was given the chance to go on a spiritual day tour in Siem Reap, after almost three weeks of travelling in Cambodia, I was ready for a restorative day. I was craving an experience which would ground me and bring more peace into my, otherwise frenetic trip.
Having seen the extensive temples in the Angkor Wat complex, for which Siem Reap is famous, and wandering around Pub Street, I was looking forward to venturing further afield and seeing what else Siem Reap had to offer.
If you want an authentic travel experience in Siem Reap, seek out an excursion to a rural pagoda. Meet monks, get your fortune told and learn about Cambodian life and the Buddhist faith.
My day commenced at Bodhi Tree, Retreat and Meditation Centre. When I arrived mid morning, I was a little weary from weeks of travel. I was wondering how I was going to practice yoga, after years of no practice and I was a little apprehensive about how the class was going to go.
It was a really special return to yoga! I ended up having a private session with a lovely French woman. She customised the class, asking me which areas of the body I wanted to focus on. My back and shoulders were suffering from lugging heavy bags around, so she led a class relieving these areas. The practice room was a pleasant space and I was relieved for the peaceful experience.
After expending energy on the mat, it was time for a local Cambodian lunch at nearby Marum restaurant. Part of a chain of restaurants across Cambodia and Laos, the Siem Reap restaurant is run by a non-government organisation (NGO) Kaliyan Mith (Tree Alliance and Friends International).
The NGO works with street children and marginalised youth, training the disadvantaged in hospitality at their restaurants, giving them experience in the workforce.
Like most Cambodians I had met, the staff were friendly, enthusiastic and accommodating. I was impressed by the welcoming vibe and the food was affordable and delicious! The restaurant is somewhat of an oasis in a city, which can be pretty hectic.
I headed back to Bodhi for the second stage of my spiritual day, an afternoon with Buddhist monks at a pagoda in rural Cambodia. I was greeted by a sweet, softly spoken young monk, “Sinet” and the tuk-tuk driver who made me feel welcome and well looked after, as we headed off into the countryside. Throughout the ride there, and as I was taken around the spiritual grounds, I had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the philosophies of the Buddhist religion.
In one of the temple rooms, there were some young monks, tying thread for bracelets. Communication was a little tricky but with some sign language and some translation from “Sinet,” we had a fun time interacting.
Next it was time to meet the “Chief Monk.” I was particularly excited about this part of the day, as he was to going to read my fortune. In exchange, I donated a gift I had brought with me from Bodhi. From my birth date, “Chief Monk” proceeded to tell my present and future, through “Sinet” who translated for me. He told me one specific thing that would happen to me this year, but I don’t want to jinx it by revealing the contents of the reading!
After this, I changed into my bathing suit and sarong for a blessing. “Chief Monk” threw countless buckets of water over me. At times, I was gasping from the torrent of cold water but it was actually refreshing in the Siem Reap heat. He chanted throughout the deluge. If only I knew the precise blessings he was making. It was a totally unique experience and I felt amazing afterwards, as if a layer of spiritual glug had been washed away. Or maybe it was just a placebo effect.
In the TUK-TUK back to Siem Reap, “Sinet” and I talked further. Not only did he educate me about what it meant to be a Buddhist, but also what it was like to be a Cambodian. Well read and educated, he gave me some remarkable insights.
Often when travelling, you can be easily drawn into visiting the classic, popular sites on the tourist trail. Sometimes an opportunity comes along to get off the beaten track and experience something unique. My spiritual day was just this and was the perfect way to end my trip to Cambodia.
Sally Watson is an Australian Journalist and media exec who loves to travel, discover new places and share stories on her blog Wing Woman Adventures.
Instagram: @wingwomanadventures; Twitter: @wingwomanADV, Facebook
The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.